Amid the borderlands

I’ve got an article in The Observer on how some of the best evidence against the idea that psychiatric diagnoses like ‘schizophrenia’ describe discrete ‘diseases’ comes not from the critics of psychiatry, but from medical genetics.

I found this a fascinating outcome because it puts both sides of the polarised ‘psychiatry divide’ in quite an uncomfortable position.

The “mental illness is a genetic brain disease” folks find that their evidence of choice – molecular genetics – has undermined the validity of individual diagnoses, while the “mental illness is socially constructed” folks find that the best evidence for their claims comes from neurobiology studies.

The evidence that underlies this uncomfortable position comes recent findings that genetic risks that were originally thought to be specific for individual diagnoses turn out to risks for a whole load of later difficulties – from epilepsy, to schizophrenia to learning disability.

In other words, the genetic risk seems to be for neurodevelopmental difficulties but if and how they appear depends on lots of other factors that occur during your life.

The neurobiological evidence has not ‘reduced’ human experience to chemicals, but shown that individual life stories are just as important.

Link to Observer article.
Link to brief scientific review article on the topic.


  1. James
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I watched Gattaca again the other night. It seems relevant to this somehow. Damn, you’ve got me thinking. Well.. heck, there goes my day.

    • Daniel
      Posted April 10, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      This one?

      Is it good?

      • James
        Posted April 11, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        Yes. Probably one of the most overlooked Sci-fi movies of the 90’s. In fact, NASA voted it the most plausible Sci-fi movie ever made.

        Give it a whirl. Beautifully shot film noir style. Great cameo appearance from the late Gore Vidal.

  2. sullivanjoe
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    The history of creative people shows many examples of brilliance and creative people with mental and emotional disorders. It cannot be a helpful step to have science label people because of a predisposition. Would I be an alcoholic if I never touched alcohol because my young environment showed me the risk and the reality? Creative people are prone to severe anxiety states, could be a better way to look at it.

  3. stylema
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Three reads to get my head around this, but isn’t it what you’ve been saying all along.

  4. stylema
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Btw just read your article so well done on that

  5. Howard
    Posted April 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Schizophrenia is an exotic flower in a dark jungle- and it has fruit you’ll never taste, let alone digest- yet you talk like a romantic armchair anthropologist, who knows these things, just to piss off the conventional authorities- you are out of your league

  6. sullivanjoe
    Posted April 13, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    I somewhat misread this post initially. I am more inclined to agree having read again and again.

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